Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Erik Loomis

rss feed

Visit Erik Loomis's Website

Labor Should Demand Political Value for Money

[ 44 ] June 4, 2013 |

Two stories here that revolve around the theme of organized labor rarely getting value for the money it donates to Democratic politicians.

On the national level, Communication Workers of American president Larry Cohen held a conference call with reporters and bloggers yesterday to say that Senate Democrats who do not support institutional changes within the Senate that would allow presidential nominees to get an up or down vote will lose CWA support. Without a functioning National Labor Relations Board, Democratic judges on federal courts, and other key agencies not being staffed due to Republican obstructionism, this is a huge issue for CWA and other unions.

The question I have is what losing support means? Does it mean not getting union money? None of the union’s tremendous GOTV efforts? Funding primary challengers? None of this is at all clear. But it’s clear that CWA does not believe it is getting its money’s worth for supporting Democrats regardless of what they do or do not do for labor.

Let’s look at the recent South Carolina special election to replace Tim Scott. Elizabeth Colbert-Busch received $32,500 from organized labor, including $10,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Her payback?

Ashley Byrd, News Director for South Carolina Radio: We are going to stay on the topic of job creation. And, uh, let’s start with this: Boeing is bringing more than 8,000 jobs into South Carolina. So here is a two part question first to Ms. Colbert Busch: Did the NLRB overstep its bounds when it tried to block Boeing’s approach to expansion in South Carolina? Yes or No, and why?

Elizabeth Colbert Busch: Yes. This is a right-to-work state, and they had no business telling a company where they could locate.

If the first thought that ran through your mind was, “Sounds like a standard Republican answer to a question like that,” you would be right. But, of course, Elizabeth Colbert Busch was the Democratic nominee for Congress in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. In response to the Republican candidate, former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), stating that Colbert Busch “wants to be the voice for labor unions in Washington, DC”, she said the following:

First of all, um, Mark, what you’re saying is just not true. Things can be taken out of context, and everybody knows that. I am proud to support and live in a right-to-work state, and I am proud of everyone who has supported me.

Now of course it is South Carolina so what do you expect, right? Well, maybe. But why should labor should provide its valuable resources to politicians who do not support its fundamental positions? For 80 years, organized labor has thrown its hat in with the Democratic Party through thick and thin. This was a pretty good strategy for awhile, but today, everyone is questioning it, including at the very top of the AFL-CIO. Today (and increasingly since the 1970s) the Democratic Party just assumes labor is writing the checks and that it’s just an interest group to assuage but not take seriously.

The South Lawn has more here:

Labor also gave $68,000 in 2009-2010 to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). Yes, that would be the same Blanche Lincoln that played a large role in blocking the Employee Free Choice Act and who now works for Wal-Mart as a “special policy advisor” (read: lobbyist). You know, the same Wal-Mart notorious for its anti-union policies. It is not altogether surprising, though, given that Wal-Mart gave her $83,650 in donations over the course of her last term in the U.S. Senate.

Something is not adding up here.

Labor gave $1.1 billion in donations to candidates in federal elections between 2005 and 2011, and what do we have to show for it? No Employee Free Choice Act. President Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary heads a corporation that is being boycotted by labor for anti-union practices and horrible working conditions. The candidate who stated in 2008 that he would put on his walking shoes and join a picket line wherever collective bargaining rights were threatened seemed to forget where his local Foot Locker was when it came to worker oppression in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. But then again, that should not be surprising, given that the 2012 Democratic National Convention was held in a right-to-work state at non-union hotels.

I don’t necessarily agree with the article’s argument to use all those resources strictly in local politics. That needs to happen too, but ignoring the national scene would be counterproductive. Labor of course should and will stay involved in electoral politics. But the question is how it should operate. How can it receive value for its dollar? I think the answer is probably supporting individual candidates instead of the Democratic Party as a whole. It needs to act more like the Bloomberg anti-gun group, making politicians pay if they don’t support union issues. And while you are not going to hurt a South Carolina Democrat by running an ad saying they are anti-union, you are going to hurt them by not giving one red cent. For a Democratic Party strategist, this is not an idea you want to hear. But from the perspective of what is best for labor unions and pushing their causes in Washington, this is a sensible strategy.

It’s Them Damned Trains!

[ 42 ] June 3, 2013 |

Scott claims one of the most important questions of our time is why Canadian teams haven’t won the Stanley Cup for so long. He may be right, but THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF OUR TIME is the issue of members of Congress killed by trains or who died while riding the train. David Nir points us to Eric Ostermeier, who profiles the 23 members of Congress who died in train-related incidents. This includes Connecticut Rep. Dwight Loomis, who I believe is the only person of my name to serve in Congress. Loomis served in 2 terms from 1859-63 and then was hit by a train in 1903 at the age of 82.

This also reminds me that I’ve thought about doing a blog series on famous Loomises over the ages. There are more than you’d think. Of course, I’d start with Randy Quaid’s character from Quick Change.

….This is also a good place to note that I think the weirdness of the train guy was Sergio Leone’s attempt to create a character based vaguely on what Walter Brennan would look like in a spaghetti western.

…..I have now learned via a Twitter follower that Wendell Willkie died after suffering approximately 20 heart attacks on a train while traveling from Indianapolis to New York City. That’ll do it.

The Stupidest Argument About Immigration Written in the 21st Century

[ 104 ] June 3, 2013 |

Arguments against immigration reform are usually pretty bad. Racism is at the heart of most, sometimes couched in dog whistles like “culture” or the Republican “they won’t vote for us because we’re racist so let’s not allow them a path to citizenship.” You don’t hear too many arguments anymore about immigrants stealing our jobs, though it’s still a commonly held belief among some working-class people. But unions also know that there is no more pro-union group than immigrants and it is in their interests to support sensible immigration reform.

But sometimes you get an argument against immigration so full of hate and so laughably over the top that you just have to point it out. Such is the case with Ying Zh-Ye’s column at PolicyMic. Arguing that so-called “amnesty” would destroy the United States “financially and politically,” Ying’s collection of self-refuting arguments, right-wing strawmen, and nuttiness producers a real winner of an article. This is my favorite part:

Many immigrants have deep scars from socialism. They know how their home countries turned into one-party communist countries many years ago. They also learned, as a part of Asian history, how elite people were humiliated and tortured, little by little, begging for their rights, dignity, and properties. Unfortunately, America is not immune from turning into a socialist country if it imports large numbers of low-income immigrants to change its political landscape.

There will be little or no way for highly skilled immigrants or wealthy Americans to prevent future tax hikes or social injustice against them, when they are increasingly outnumbered by others. It may eventually become a better choice for them to leave this country. The U.S. then will be on a pathway to socialism.

Immigrants are fleeing socialism. If we let immigrants into the United States, that socialism they are fleeing is the inevitable result!!

Also, immigrants will convince rich Americans to migrate to other countries, turning the United States into a 3rd world socialist hellhole.

I look forward to hearing Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and Jim Inhofe repeat these arguments on the Senate floor during the immigration bill debate this month.

Today in the Coming Republican Coalition

[ 112 ] June 3, 2013 |

The College Republicans have released a report that shows that all young people hate Republicans. And that’s only a slight overstatement, with 54% of young people supporting raising taxes on the wealthy and 3% supporting lowering taxes on the wealthy. Wow. The College Republican answer to the problem–just stop talking about actual Republican positions. I’m sure lying will be a good strategy in the long run. Alex Pareene with more on the bright shiny future of the Republican Party:

It is a bit interesting that these calls for change in how the party presents itself are coming from the College Republicans, traditionally one of the party’s most proudly assholish wings. College Republicans across the country think a great way to get people excited for Republicans is by holding “affirmative action bake sales.” College Republicans bred Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. The co-author of the report, former College Republicans head Alex Schriver, won his election to that post following a drunken speech in which the Texas College Republicans Chairman called Schriver’s opponents “nerds and fags.” A previous national chairman notoriously sent fundraising letters aimed specifically at “elderly people with dementia.” (He won the chair with the assistance of the odious North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, himself a former College Republican.) The culture that so desperately needs to be changed in the GOP begins with its college boosters, a lily-white crowd of entitled bow-tied pricks who go out of their way to be detested by “nerds and fags” on every campus on which they have a chapter.

It’s also true that the GOP cannot possibly take real steps to make itself a more appealing party to a younger, more diverse and tolerant generation without alienating the people who currently put the GOP in control of the United States House of Representatives. The old guard, who refuse to change anything, have a decent argument: It’d be political suicide to abandon the reactionary old people who currently always vote Republican, because while they’re a shrinking demographic, they’re also a large and loyal one.

The Republican Party is dependent on the votes and dollars of the people who make young voters detest the Republican Party. There’s no way to “message” the GOP out of that trap.

But hey, if they just stop young people from being able to vote, the Republicans can still win!

Frank Lautenberg, RIP

[ 102 ] June 3, 2013 |

Frank Lautenberg has passed.

Lautenberg’s most significant legacy is his role in raising the drinking age to 21. In principle, I think the drinking age should be lowered. But given the American automobile landscape and the American tradition of teenage driving, it was almost certainly a good policy. If we could combine lowering the drinking age with massive public transportation infrastructure funding and a robust system to get kids home if they’ve been drinking, that would be ideal. Alas, we do not live in an ideal society. I don’t see how any could criticize Lautenberg’s second most important legacy, banning smoking on airplanes. I can’t even imagine riding an airplane full of smoke. Yuck.

Can’t say that I’m too excited about the inevitable Senator Cory Booker, but that was going to happen in 2014 anyway.

Native American Citizenship Day

[ 16 ] June 2, 2013 |

On this date in 1924, the U.S. government finally granted citizenship rights to Native Americans.

That’s correct–1924.

Teaching the Tulsa Race Riot

[ 116 ] June 2, 2013 |

This weekend was the anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, one of the most horrifying episodes of organized violence against African-Americans after emancipation.

Linda Christensen, a high school teacher in Portland, has some excellent thoughts on the importance of this event and the potentials of teaching it, especially to her group of mostly African-American students.

Like pearls on a string, we can finger the beads of violent and “legal” expulsions of people of color from their land in the nation: The Cherokee Removal and multiple wars against indigenous people, the 1846-48 U.S. war against Mexico, the Dawes Act, government-sanctioned attacks on Chinese throughout the West, the “race riots” that swept the country starting in 1919, Japanese American internment, and the later use of eminent domain for “urban removal.” The list is long.

This year, Tulsa was one of the instances we studied to probe the legacy of racism and wealth inequality. To stimulate students’ interest in resurrecting this silenced history, I created a mystery about the night of the invasion of Greenwood. I wrote roles for students based on the work of scholars like John Hope Franklin and Scott Ellsworth that gave them each a slice of what happened the night of the “Tulsa Race Riot.” There’s a jumble of events they learn: the arrest of Dick Rowland, a young African American shoe shiner, who allegedly raped Sarah Page, a white elevator operator (later, students learn that authorities dropped all charges); the newspaper article that incited whites and blacks to gather at the courthouse; the assembly of armed black WWI veterans to stop any lynching attempt—26 black men had been lynched in Oklahoma in the previous two decades; the deputizing and arming of whites, many of them KKK members; the internment of blacks; the death of more than 300 African American men, women, and children; the burning and looting of homes and businesses.

Because not all white Tulsans shared the racial views of the white rioters, I included roles of a few whites and a recent immigrant from Mexico who provided refuge in the midst of death and chaos. I wanted students to understand that even in moments of violence, people stood up and reached across race and class borders to help.

That’s some good teaching there. But this is even more important:

Sarah feared that bringing up the past would open old wounds and reignite the racism that initiated the riots. Vince and others disagreed: “This is not just the past. Racial inequality is still a problem. Forgetting about what happened and burying it without dealing with it is why we still have problems today.”

And this was exactly what we wanted kids to see: The past is not dead. We didn’t want students to get lost in the history of Tulsa, though it needs to be remembered; we wanted them to recognize the historical patterns of stolen wealth in black, brown, and poor communities. We wanted them to connect the current economic struggles of people of color by staying alert to these dynamics from the past. We wanted them to see that in many ways that historical black communities like Tulsa are still burning, still being looted.

For most of you, I don’t need to make the case why history is important, but I do get not infrequent comments from random people here on the irrelevancy of studying the past. The work I do on the history of organized labor and environmental history has important implications of understanding these issues in the present; in fact, I’d argue that an argument about what to do going into the future about the present without a grounding in the past is an argument likely to fail. Similarly, not understanding the history of discrimination and violence toward people of color in our nation founded on white supremacy allows people to blame current inequality on people’s laziness, bad morals, or racial characteristics.

Oil Pollution in Arkansas

[ 18 ] June 2, 2013 |

On March 29, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying oil from Canadian tar sands ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, northwest of Little Rock. Between 5000 and 7000 barrels of oil spilled into nearby waterways.

ExxonMobil and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality claim everything is safe for residents. But the residents’ own bodies tell them this is not true:

“I could smell that horrible smell. I got really scared,”says Sherry Appleman, who awoke to a nightmare on March 29. As the Exxon Tar Sands oil flowed through their town, residents of Mayflower reported strong odors that lead to headaches and vomiting in areas that Exxon deemed safe and not in need of evacuation. Some of residents, like Scott Crowe, were deemed safe to remain in their homes where a mere 300 yards from the rupture site. They say they haven’t heard from city officials or Exxon, but have experienced headaches, stomach pains, nausea, fainting, and have been prescribed inhalers for the first time.

Ann Jarrell reports that she stayed at home with her daughter and a 3 month old grandchild despite the smells because they were told they didn’t need to evacuate and were safe. Ann Jarrell is a beekeeper and found dead, oil-soaked bees on her porch. The state plant board agreed to evacuate her bees to a safe location, but deemed the situation safe enough for Jarell’s family. They later learned it was likely they’d been exposed to toxic chemical fumes, and are now suffering from breathing problems and have been placed on inhalers.

A local elementary school outside the evacuation zone had to send home eight students who became ill after breathing petrochemical fumes. Although Exxon had determined the air around the school safe, residents, including school officials, reported strong odors of oil in and around the building. These are just a handful of disturbing examples of illness in Mayflower after the oil spill. One Mayflower resident, despite being able to see the leak from her home, was told by Exxon that residents were merely suffering allergies. Some of the residents affected by the spill have filed a class action lawsuit.

It’s in the interest of both the company and a state who desires to serve corporations to deny any real problems are taking place. At the very least, the company should have to pay for long-term testing and be held financially responsible for any health problems that result from oil exposure. I guess this is what the class-action suit is for, but it would be better if residents didn’t have to come to this. Not surprisingly, ExxonMobil has tried to cover up the extent of the problem.

In the world of petroleum, this is an everyday event. It usually doesn’t happen in the United States, although it certainly has in the past. Normally, it is Nigerians, Venezuelans, Indonesians, and the immigrants who work the refineries in the Arabian Peninsula who suffer from direct exposure to the oil industry. But with the future of tar sands pipelines, Americans will suffer direct exposure more frequently.

The Leveraging Synergies for Matrix-Driven Perfomance Based Action Presidency

[ 77 ] June 2, 2013 |

It’s very exciting that the Romney Presidency would have been nothing more than an exercise in corporate cliches, with its leaderocity, core competencies, magnetic niches, and other meaningless words.

Nordic Diet

[ 64 ] June 1, 2013 |

The whole “Mediterranean Diet,” “Nordic Diet,” or whatnot is pretty silly generally. How about just eating relatively healthy and getting some exercise? But if you are going to do one of these, who on earth outside of a Scandinavian would follow the Nordic Diet over the Mediterranean? More pickled herring! More lutefisk! Please hold anything with taste!

Maybe I’m just permanently ruined by my own Lutheran background of hotdish. But no.

A Box of Grass

[ 20 ] May 31, 2013 |

The country music response to the hippies led to many songs that ranged from belligerent to hilarious to bizarre. Such as Buck Jones’ “A Box of Grass.”

Coal Companies Eliminate Pensions

[ 68 ] May 31, 2013 |

A couple of months ago, I noted how coal giant Peabody Coal had created a spinoff corporation called Patriot Coal with the explicit mission of sending it toward bankruptcy in order to eliminate 20,000 pensions.

A Missouri bankruptcy judge has ruled in favor of Patriot here. Mike Elk with more:

Unless the parties come to another agreement, the ruling means that Patriot Coal’s healthcare obligations will be turned over to the Voluntary Employees Benefits Association (VEBA), a fund that would be administered by the union. According to the UMWA, Patriot will only guarantee to pay in a total of $15 million, plus $0.20 per ton of coal mined, which the UMWA calculates will cover only $5 million a year in retiree benefits. Retiree healthcare for Patriot Coal’s 20,000 beneficiaries currently costs $7 million a month, the union says.

According to the UMWA, Patriot Coal has offered the union a 35 percent stake in the company that the union can choose to sell in order to better fund the VEBA. The union, however, says that “since the current and future value of the company is unknown, there is no way of knowing how much money this could provide for healthcare benefits or when such funding would be available.” The company has also proposed a profit-sharing mechanism to help fund VEBA, the UMWA says, but it estimates the plan would provide only an additional $2 million a year.

Basically, another judge has conspired with corporate America to send thousands of old people into poverty.